Sunday, August 24, 2014

Olympic National Park Beaches

2nd Beach, La Push.  Photo by Bruce Hansen (c) Mt. Hood Press
There are many reasons to visit Olympic National Park in summer - hike stunning ridgelines of tall, glacier
2nd Beach, Olympic National Park
capped mountains, explore wildlife-rich riperian zones of blue, glacial water, and walk among giant trees, dripping with ancient-looking moss.

Still...the number one reason I wanted to visit Olympic National Park was to walk the coastline, explore life-filled tide pools, and gaze at enormous rock monoliths in the pristine beaches of northern Washington State.

In my short, four day stay, I was able to visit three beautiful beaches.  Details about our itinerary are available on the Four Family Friendly Days in Olympic National Park.  Since my favorite part of the stay was the beaches (as well as the reason I came), I decided it was appropriate to do an additional post of these magnificent spaces.    Below is advice, descriptions, and directions to three of the most spiritual beaches of the region.

Ruby Beach on a cool, foggy morning

1.  It's Cold - Don't expect Santa Monica sunbathing.  Even in August, these beaches are cool, cloudy, and have freezing water.  It's part of what makes them unique and home to abundant wildlife.  Enjoy the beach as a place to walk, explore, and photograph, but leave your beach towel and bikini at home.

2.  Check the Tide - Check a local tide chart.  It's best to explore the coast at low tide when you can poke around the pools and walk more of the beach.  

3.  Go Early to Avoid Crowds - None of these beaches will reach SoCal type crowding, but after noon, expect to see families and tourists exploring the beach. For a pristine, empty beach, get there early...or better yet, camp out on the beach!

My adventures - Three Olympic National Park Beaches and how to get there...

2nd Beach - La Push, WA

It's unfortunate this gorgeous shoreline has the un-romantic name of "2nd Beach".  It doesn't do it justice.
Little Girl finds Sea Star home
While 1st beach can get crowded due to it's easy street access, and 3rd beach is the the first crowded parking lot from La Push Road, 2nd Beach is tucked away between it's sisters.  It's the perfect escape.  After a short, wooded hike through giant, ancient trees, I emerged onto a open (and empty) one-mile stretch of beach.  Sea stacks and small rock islands pierced through a sea of fog, and as I walked, the wave of cloud would move, revealing and hiding new rock monoliths.  This was a great spot to explore tide pools.  I was relieved to see groups of healthy sea stars - not yet struck by starfish wasting disease.  It was exactly why I had wanted to visit this park.  It felt magical. 

Get there:  We drove 2 miles north on Rt. 101 to Rt. 110.  Turn left (West) on Rt. 110.  This will turn into La Push Road.  Travel about 13 miles on 110/La Push road.  You will pass the parking lot for 3rd Beach and the Quileute Tribal Office before coming to the parking lot for 2nd Beach.  

2nd Beach, La Push

2nd Beach, La Push

On the jetty at First Beach
1st Beach - La Push, WA

This is one of the easiest beaches to access in the park - No Hiking Required.  This beach sports a long jetty covered in large and battered driftwood.  I climbed on the largest piece of driftwood I've ever seen - a uprooted and weathered tree that had a root system still standing at least 25 feet high!  Rocky islands and needles rise offshore and create a unique coastal landscape.  I visited this beach to watch the sunset and even though it was foggy, it was amazing to watch colored sky peek through the cracks in the clouds.  

Get there:  We drove 2 miles north on Rt. 101 to Rt. 110.  Turn left (West) on Rt. 110.  This will turn into La Push Road.  Take 110/La Push Road to the end and you will enter the town of La Push.  Follow signs to 1st beach parking.

Ruby Beach - Olympic National Park

We were fortunate to reach Ruby Beach at low tide where I could get a hands-on experience with
Rock Needles at Ruby Beach
the many tide pools.  Large green anemones carpeted the rocks, rough blue mussels clung to the stone, and hand-sized orange and purple sea stars cooled in the pools.  We enjoyed the morning fog and many rock needles rising out of the sand while we wandered.  Our 9 am walk left us one of the only people enjoying this heavenly piece of nature.  It was the perfect way to end our trip in the park.

Get there:  From Forks, take Rt 101 south 27 miles to Ruby Beach parking area (there is a sign on the right).  Walk a quarter mile trail to the beach below.  

Although I loved every part of the park we explored, the beaches were my favorite.  The rock islets, foggy days, and enormous tide pool organisms create a place of wonder and peace.  It calms my soul and makes me yearn to return.  

Sea Stars in Olympic National Park

Ruby Beach

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Four Family Friendly Days in Olympic National Park

View from the top of Hurricane Hill near Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park
Although I was born and raised in Oregon, I haven't been to the Olympic Peninsula since I was very small. So, when I was out in Portland for a week this summer, I asked Mom if we could get out of town and head north!  She and my dad are travel writers and well acquainted with the sights of Washington.  They planned a wonderful, beautiful, and tranquil four days in Olympic National Park.  Our itinerary is perfect for someone looking for a smattering of what the park has to offer including easy-moderate day hikes and a little bit of everything - beaches, rainforests, and mountains.

Here's how to recreate this adventure....

Day 1 - Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Hill hike
Activities:   Hurricane Ridge is in the Northern portion of the park.  It is easily accessible from the town of Port Angeles.  We started at the visitor center.  This alone provides magnificent views of snow-capped peaks (in August) and rolling hills of alpine gardens.  We spotted multiple deer on our drive (so watch out!)  Many hikes are accessible from this spot, but we chose to drive up the beyond the visitor center and take the "Hurricane Hill" hike.  This easy, paved trail winds 1.5 miles to the 5,757 foot summit with views of the surrounding mountains, wildflowers, bay, and even a peak at Vancouver Island.  After our hike, we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the car before returning to Port Angeles.
Hiking Hurricane Hill

Night Accommodations:  Port Angeles has a number of hotels, motels, and inns.  In addition, the Heart O' the Hills campground is located at the based on the Hurricane Ridge park gates and offers quiet, wooded spots to campers.

Food:  For dinner, we enjoyed a wonderful seafood dinner at Kokopelli Grill in Port Angeles (try the salmon chowder!)  Make reservations because it's a popular spot.
We also had a fantastic breakfast at the First Street Haven Diner.  Great cinnamon roll!

Day 2 - Lake Crescent, Maymere Falls, and Twilight
Lake Crescent

Activities:  On Day 2, we enjoyed breakfast at the First Street Haven Diner before heading out toward the town of Forks.  Along the way, we made a few stops to get a glimpse Washington State magic.  A favorite was the stop at the Lake Crescent Lodge.  This beautiful and charming inn is located on the still shores of beautiful Lake Crescent.  The day we visited, the lake was still - fog drifted through the surrounding hills, making it a serene and peaceful spot.  From here, we were able to take a hike to Maymere Falls.  This easy 1.8 mile round trip hike takes you to a narrow cascading falls nestled between old growth Sitka spruce.

Marymere Falls
We also made as stop at Sol Duc Falls (Also spelled Soleduck) located near the well-visited Sol Duc Hot
Springs (fee to soak).  Sol Duc Falls has multiple entrance points and trails to it, but we took the most trodden route from the parking lot located at the dead end road.  This 2 mile out-and-back easy trek takes you through beautiful forests, past a haunting hiker shelter to the bridge that overlooks the three falls.

From Sol Duc, we continued to the town of Forks. This town has become famous in recent years as the setting for the popular Twilight novels.   Before retiring for the night, I insisted on seeing some of the Twilight tourist attractions, such as ... the Forks High School (with original movie sign), a replica of Bella's truck at the town visitor center, and Forks Outfitters - where Bella worked.

Sol Duc Falls
Night Accommodations:  Forks has a few hotels/motels as well as camping available at Sol Duc and nearby LaPush.  We enjoyed our stay at the Forks Motel - where we were able to get a "suite" complete with two bed rooms, bathroom, and outfitted full kitchen.  This made us able to shop for groceries in town and make our own meals.

Food:  Because Forks has such limited dining options, we purchased groceries and made all our food in our kitchen motel room at the Forks Motel.

Tide pools at 2nd Beach
Day 3 - Beaches and Rainforest

Activities:  Our second day in Forks started by making our breakfast in the motel and heading out to LaPush.  This Native-American Land and town are home to some of the most amazing beaches I've ever seen.  After consulting a guide book, we decided to explore the "Second Beach".  A short, one mile walk through the Quileute Indian Reservation and we emerged on a stunning beach pierced by large rock monoliths.  As the fog cleared, more rock giants rose from sea.  Walking along the coast for 2 miles, we explored local tide pools and gazed at the evergreen-coated cliffs.  It was spectacular.

Moss covered trees in Hoh rainforest
After our walk, we returned to the hotel for lunch, before heading back into the park.  This time, we drove to Hoh Rainforest.  We took the short but SWEET "Hall of Mosses" trail.  Although only 0.8 miles, this loop trail took over an hour due to the frequent photo stops.  I really felt as though I'd stepped back in time.

We returned to the Forks Motel, where we made dinner, but watched the clock, and around 8 pm, headed to "First Beach" in LaPush in the hopes of seeing the 8:30 pm sunset dip into the ocean.  This beach is accessed directly from the town of LaPush and no hiking is required.  I marveled at the rock islands out at sea while climbing over the driftwood-covered jetty.

Night Accommodations:  Forks Motel (see above)

Food:  Made our own in our kitchen at Forks Motel.

Massive Trees along the coast

Day 4 - One Last Beach Walk

Morning at Ruby Beach
Activities: Before heading back to Portland, we stopped along Route 101 at Ruby Beach.  Since we got there at around 9 am, we found ourselves ALONE on one of the most amazing beaches I've ever seen!  We walked the sandy shores for a mile, photographing and gaping at the immense rocks and pristine tide pools. By the time we got back to the parking lot around 11 am, the lot was full and many families were combing the beach.

We returned to Portland refreshed by the purity of the Olympic Peninsula nature scenes and already aching to return.  I highly recommend this National Park for lovers of nature, mountains, waterfalls, and beaches.  It was the perfect way to enjoy a week in the Pacific Northwest!
Morning stroll at Ruby Beach

Additional Recommendations....

Sunset at 1st Beach in LaPush
- It's waaaaaaaaaaaay cooler  (like 20 degrees) in the Olympic Peninsula than in Seattle/Portland.  I packed shorts for a mid-August summer day, but instead spent the entire time in my one pair of pants and borrowed sweatshirt.  80 in the city could be 60 in the park!

- The peninsula has poor cell phone reception.  Even Forks, a populated town had me stuck on AT&T's "extended network".  The Forks Motel offered weak complimentary wifi - just enough to check email, but not much more.  Plan accordingly.

- Get to beaches early.  Although this park did not seem very crowded for a warm August weekend, we discovered that even getting to beaches at 9 am would give us the gift of solitude.

Bella's truck from Twilight in Forks, WA